Environmental management systems

‘Environmental responsibility’ is a term commonly used in boardrooms throughout the UK, and highlights that effective management of environmental issues is an area of concern for many businesses, from large FTSE 100 companies to smaller organisations.

This interest in environmental responsibility is generated for different reasons within each company. However, they all aim to achieve the same goal – to minimise and control potentially negative environmental impacts and risks. Many organisations in the UK are achieving this goal by the implementation of an Environmental Management System (EMS).

An EMS is a powerful tool for the identification and management of environmental risks. It also provides a mechanism for delivering performance improvements, effecting resource savings and promoting environmental best practice.

There are two main EMS standards to which an organisation can receive external certification: the EU-based Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) and the International Standard ISO 14001: 2004. Both Standards represent best practice in environmental management and have been widely accepted by UK businesses.
ISO 14001 is applicable to any type and size of organisation, anywhere in the world. It can be applied to individual sites, or to entire organisations. Some organisations choose to implement ISO 14001 in a phased manner, site by site, or plant by plant, or subsidiary by subsidiary. Others design the EMS at corporate level and require each site or plant to interpret and implement the EMS accordingly. Which approach is chosen depends very much on resources and the existing company culture.

Whichever Standard is used as the basis for an EMS, there are three underlying principles that form the backbone of the system:

1. Compliance with applicable environmental legislation.
2. Prevention of pollution.
3. Continual improvement.